Will the COVID baby boom be a bust?

Thom argues despite speculation, the conditions aren’t right for a baby boom

For Your Consideration

For Your Consideration

Back in the spring when the pandemic and accompanying lockdown hit, there was a lot of speculation self-isolation might lead to, shall we say, increased romantic interaction between couples and result in a 2021 baby boom.

That boom would be starting right about now and we’ve heard, anecdotally, there may be an unusual number of babies being born at Bulkley Valley District Hospital right now.

We have not been able to verify this, and of course there could be many reasons for it, confirmation bias amongst them. If we’re expecting (pun intended) something to happen it may lead us to perceive it actually is even if it’s not.

It could also just be an anomaly, a local phenomenon or natural fluctuation.

It occurs to me that while couples spending more time together could foster increased amorous intentions is plausible, equally plausible is being couped up together could have a deleterious effect on friskiness.

Time will tell, but if we look at history the conditions aren’t really right for a baby boom.

First, a definition: A baby boom is a period during which there is a marked increase in fertility or birth rate within a given population.

The most famous one was, of course, the post-Second World War boom.

The post-war era was characterized by optimism and uncharted economic growth, high employment rates and low cost of living. Furthermore, governments actively encouraged high birth rates to replenish populations decimated by the war with incentives for having children.

That didn’t work for Quebec in the 1980s. Fuelled by separatism in that province, the government offered women $500 for a first birth, $3,000 for a second and $8,000 for every subsequent one along with several other incentives, but the birth rate continued to decline.

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It has worked for Israel, which has been experiencing a baby boom pretty much since the country was carved out of Palestine by the Allied powers following the Second World War, but that is a concerted exercise in nation-building.

A second boom in the 1970s and ’80s, often referred to as the echo boom, was not due to increased fertility rates — in fact, they went down — but was rather merely a function of the huge cohort of baby boomers coming of age.

In any event, unlike the post-war period, the current period shares none of the positive conditions that might herald a baby boom. It is more consistent with the period following the 2008 recession and the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic according to a study recently published by the Bookings Institute in the United States.

It found both those crises actually led to a significant decline in birth rates and in the U.S. the harder hit a particular state was, the sharper the decline.

That study also correlated rising unemployment rates with decreases in birth rates.

It seems unlikely the COVID-19 pandemic, or at least the first wave, is likely to result in a baby boom. If there is to be one, it seems more likely it would come post-pandemic and only then if we come out of it with exceptional economic growth, stability and optimism.

That too, seems unlikely given all the other unrelated political strife we are currently facing.


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